LeVar Burton’s App at the End of the Rainbow

The host of the classic children's reading program tells us the story of its high-tech makeover.

Evan Agostini/Getty Images
Evan Agostini/Getty Images

TR: President Obama has announced an education program focused on African Americans. Could the Reading Rainbow app and tools like it represent creative ways to work on closing the achievement gap in the United States?

LB: I intend that it does. I’ve been to Washington several times in the last few months to speak to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. He knows how I feel about the state of education in America. We spend an inordinate amount of money of the federal budget on the machinery of war, and neglect our kids in the process, and it’s not OK. With the technology of tablet computers, if we bring the right content to them and distribute them ubiquitously throughout the land, we can do something about America being ranked 29th in the world in terms of our level of education.

TR: But, given economic disparities in this country, do you have any concerns about whether the majority of African-American kids will be able to access the technology you believe is necessary for that to happen?

LB: I want to live in an America where we are able to marshal all the resources we have at our disposal and that we — people like me, and companies like Apple and Intel and others — can make it our business to put a tablet computer in the hands of every single kid in America. Every single kid.

TR: What’s your advice to parents who struggle to get their kids into reading?

LB: My advice to them would be simply to read in front of your children. Kids are sponges. They will emulate what they see and what they’re exposed to. It’s not rocket science.

TR: What are your top recommended books for kids in the Reading Rainbow age range (3-9)?

LB: Sure, as far as the ones we have in the app, I’d recommend Young Henry and the Dragon and Fiona’s Luck. And two not currently in the app that are among my favorites would be Amazing Grace, and Enemy Pie.

TR: Will your acting take a backseat to Reading Rainbow for the foreseeable future?

LB: Reading Rainbow and the RR Kids business is of primary concern to me right now. But, as it happens, I’m also back on television in front of the cameras this summer, in the TNT series, Perception. I’ve always been the sort of guy who’s happiest doing more than one thing at a time. The entire time I was doing Star Trek, I was hosting and producing Reading Rainbow. Now as the co-founder of the Reading Rainbow business, I find myself wanting to do more acting gigs, and here I am on a new television series again. That’s just the universe’s way of saying, “Stay busy, LeVar.”

Jenée Desmond-Harris is The Roots staff writer. Follow her on Twitter.

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